EVERY morning in schools in the United States — from Juno, Alaska, to Miami, Florida — every member of staff and student is required to make the pledge of allegiance. This pledge is meant to instil patriotism and nationalism in every American child. This is at the heart of who we are as Americans. We have an embedded patriotism in the veins of our being.
The events of Wednesday, therefore, are, beyond question, an act of violence against the values that most Americans hold true. These acts have been denounced by many political leaders around the world, and mourned by many more. These acts surprised the Western world; they confused journalists, news anchors, and global citizens.
The people who committed these acts of domestic terrorism were not gunned down or called terrorists, however: they were called protesters. As a Black American, I believe that, if the words were reversed, my family would be planning my wake. Mainstream media sources have suggested that, had these been Black Lives Matter protesters, we would have seen a “bloodbath” of thousands of black bodies.
The waving of the Confederate flag in the shadows of Congress was seen by many as a mark of disobedience to law and order, and even of violence. It symbolised the waging of war on those who want humanity to progress by those who want to keep the status quo.
It was a symbol that the rioters used to express their rebellion, which was heard by millions of sheltering Americans — and even louder by the Congressional members scared for their lives, who believed for a while that this was a coup or an overthrow of the government. They spent hours hiding in a bunker, as rioters destroyed property and the history of the American republic with equal abandon.
It was notable that the police presence was substantially smaller than during Black Lives Matters protests in Portland just a few months ago. And yet pro-Trump citizens broke into the People’s House, tore down barriers, damaged property, and fired shots. This time, the protests were not to fight injustice but to perpetrate it.
THIS marks a turning point in the American consciousness: a realisation that this country is no better than the so-called “developing countries” that President Trump has disparaged in the past with his usual inflammatory language. We are no different than these places. Imperialism and colonialism taught us to believe that we were more advanced in reason and scientific understanding, and that our institutions were consequently firm. We see that we were wrong.
Donald Trump did not create this. Rather, his presidency revealed it. I worry for the fabric of my country and my Church. Black and Brown people have been writing, speaking, tweeting, and messaging me about this; few people have been listening to us.
We mourn for the country that we love. But we also desire justice for people who have been marginalised for far too long. The common experience of Black people as that walking down the street in a white neighbourhood is enough to get them stopped and searched and thrown into prison — this, even in the UK — or, in the United States, maybe even shot in the back multiple times, like Jacob Blake.
Yet thousands of mostly white men and women, many of them armed, can enter the country’s most sacred building without gunshots being fired at them. More than 10,000 people were arrested in the first fortnight after the death of George Floyd; at the time of writing, only 69 people had been arrested after the scenes in Washington.
This is not a fresh attack on democracy. Democracy has always been under attack; now, everyone is seeing the truth.
Many prominent white conservative Evangelical Christians are among those spreading conspiracy theories. They endorsed the Trump administration, spread unfounded facts about election fraud, and denounced critical race theory and other helpful tools to make the US a better union. They are numbered among the 45 per cent of Republicans who, in a poll on Wednesday, said that they supported this act of violence towards congressional leaders and the building that holds our most sacred national democratic values.
THE great American theologian Stanley Hauerwas said: “Protestant Christians set out to make America Christian and ended up making Christianity American.” The truth of these words have been seen clearly in the way in which Trump supporters have branded “Jesus Saves” slogans while spreading unfounded lies about electoral fraud, and claiming that this a part of the American sanctification process. The riots were part of the “Save America March”.
How should we respond as Christians? We need to acknowledge the reality that, in 2021, we are just as broken as we were 2000 years ago, and in need of a Messiah. We have to acknowledge the fact that white privilege and white supremacy is a great force in our world and an evil that we must destroy with faith, reason, and policy.
As Christians, we must, as my grandfather use to say, “own up to our mess”. Every single church, small group, or WhatsApp group needs to acknowledge the fault in each of our lives. It is not New Year, New Me; it is New Year, Old Me. This is not just an American problem. It is a human one.
K. Augustine Tanner-Ihm works supporting students in the Student Conduct Office at Durham University, and has recently completed ordination training at Cranmer Hall, St. John’s College, Durham, during which he completed an BA and MA in Theology. He was the winner of the 2020 Theology Slam.